IMBIBE: Cava Comes of Age
Why you should spend time with Spain’s sparkling wine.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – It’s a shame that Spanish Cava is the poor stepchild of the bubbles biz, since it can be such a terrific value. There are $15 Cavas that I would put up against $50 French Champagne in a blind taste test. And recently, the Spanish wine industry stepped up its game by creating a new Cava designation there, hoping to do justice to Spain’s signature sparkler.
More about that in a skosh. For now, what is Cava? Well, following a trip to France, where Don José Raventós of bodega Codorníu became enchanted with Champagne, he returned to his home in Penedès with Champagne-making equipment and created Spain’s first méthode champenoise sparkling wine. That was in 1872. Today, the best Spanish sparkling wines—called Cava—still come from the Penedès region.
Just like Champagne, the Spanish variation ranges from ultra-dry (called Brut nature) to sweet. By law, it must be made from one or more of five native grape varieties: xarel-lo, parellada, macabeo, chardonnay and malvasia (which is rarely used). Parellada provides delicacy and nuance; macabeo is fruity and acidic; xarel-lo gives it body and crispness. Adding chardonnay imparts finesse. Quality Cava producers to look for include Codorníu, Freixenet, Segura Viudas, Mirio, Huguet and Recaredo, as well as a new breed of young winemakers and wineries with terroir-driven wines like Avinyó, Raventós i Blanc and Pere Mata.
Last summer, Spain’s Cava Regulatory Board (Cava Consejo Regulador) announced the designation of a new premium category called Single Estate Cavas. To be classified in the new designation, the wine must meet the following requirements, according to the Trade Commission of Spain’s Wines from Spain newsletter: 1. Made with grapes from vines that are at least 10 years old; 2. From vineyards that are hand-harvested and have a maximum yield of 8,000 kg per hectare; 3. Estate fermented and vinified with a maximum output of 48 hectoliters per hectare; 4. Fermented in bottle and aged for at least 36 months; 5. A certification of the base wine must be made for complete traceability from the vine to a store shelf.
The new classification should help consumers here identify high-quality Cava and enhance the visibility of those wines being made in the traditional méthode champenoise style. In a recent interview with Wines from Spain, President of the Cava Consejo Regulador Pedro Bonet said, “This has been something in the works for quite some time. We proposed creating this new category to do justice to Cava. In terms of principal, we were eager to show the world Cava’s excellence while giving our producers a way to demonstrate the superior quality of their amazing wines.”
So far, no producers have been certified by the Cava Board as they are still awaiting definitive ratification from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, but that could be coming in a matter of days, according to Mr. Bonet.
In the meantime, I recommend trying these exceptional Cavas: Raventós i Blanc L’hereu ($21.99), Poema Brut ($13.95), Freixenet Semi-Seco ($9.99), Sumarroca Brut Reserva ($12.99) and my very favorite, Marques de Gelida Brut Exclusive Reserva ($16.99). PJH